Ever since the launch of Speedhunters more than four years ago, stories about vintage Japanese cars have continually been some of the most popular and most talked about among our wide array of features. I’ve personally fallen quite hard for these cars (points to the old Datsun sitting in the garage), but I’ve always wondered just what it is that makes these retro Japanese machines so popular. It’s a question that grows even bigger in my head after attending an event like Sunday’s Bayline Meet.
In the grand scheme of the automotive world, classic Japanese cars make up a pretty small slice of the overall pie. Somehow though, their appeal goes far beyond the size of that slice. In fact, I’d say it’s as close to universal as it gets in the ever divided world of car enthusiasts.
Think about it for a moment. How many people out there can’t appreciate something like a well done Datsun 510? It may not be one of the world’s most famous or exotic cars, but I can’t recall ever hearing anyone saying something bad about one.
I’m constantly wondering just why it is that vintage Japnaese cars are loved so much. Based on my experience of shooting these cars both in Japan and here in the US, I have a few theories swirling around in my strange head.
Naturally, fans of modern high tech Japanese cars (the “tuners”, if you will) have a great amount of appreciation for these cars as they represent the roots of the Japanese performance car and the birth of a new industry. Respect your elders as they say.
Beyond that, the simple “oldness” of these cars gives them an appeal that transcends different automotive subcultures. A set of sidedraft carbs and a choice set of vintage wheels can win over a lot of people who may not have much interest in an Evo or a Civic Type R with their variable valve timing or active yaw control.
Many of the popular Japanese classics borrowed heavily from both European and American cars in terms of styling and engineering. This is another factor that I believe contributes to their broad appeal, earning them fans who may come from different automotive backgrounds.
Next, there’s the factor of affordability. Sure, the value of vintage Japanese machinery is rising by the day, but for the most part these cars still remain within the budgets of most car enthusiasts. As of now you can still score an early Datsun or Toyota in good shape for significantly less than what it would cost for a popular European or American machine of the same vintage.
Finally there’s the nostalgia factor, or the emotional appeal that comes with these cars. Here in the United States at least, if you roll into a gas station in a 240Z or 510 it’s pretty much guaranteed that someone will come up to you and start sharing their memories with these cars. “My buddy had one of these in high school, it was the fastest car in town!” or “I bought one of these brand new back in ’72”. Sometimes these stories seem slightly exaggerated, but that’s part of the fun.
Of course if you are cruising around in a non US market car like a Hakosuka Skyline, the responses you get will probably be more of a “What the hell kind of car is that? That’s awesome!” than a “Hey, I used to have one those!”, but the enjoyment is all the same.
I’ll let you guys continue to ponder the appeal of vintage Japanese cars in your minds (as will I), but for now let me to return to my coverage from the Bayline Meet.
Here is another car that should look very familiar – Sunny’s 240Z. The meet was held right in his own backyard so it was only natural for him to bring his shakotan Z out.
There’s something very cool about two-door station wagons like this Corolla. I can’t help but think of the iconic Chevy Nomad from the mid ’50s when I see cars like this.
This one was even sporting a 16-valve 4AGE swap that was looked very factory – if Toyota was using fuel injected twin cam engines in the early ’70s that is.
In the previous post someone mentioned the lack of Mazdas. While there weren’t too many that came to the meet, a few caught my eye including this first generation RX-7. Speaking of Mazdas, keep an eye out for a spotlight on a very a unique Mazda-powered machine I spotted on Sunday.
Among the lineup of AE86s was this boro-chic hatchback.
The entire rear window was stickerbombed with everything from Beavis and Butthead and Star Wars to Dale Earnhardt. Don’t forget the Speedhunters sticker as well.
Leaving on the markings from the junkyard. Is this a new stage of rat styling?
Not to let the Zs, 510s, and Skylines get all the attention, there was a very impressive selection of Fairlady Roadsters taking part in the meet. The styles ranged from full original…
…to vintage race trim.
One of my favorites from the entire event was this beautiful Roadster, which I believe I’ve come across at JCCS in the past. Besides the top notch exterior with a hard top and Panasport wheels…
…it’s also equipped with a flawless naturally aspirated SR20 swap.
One more view from the swap meet area showing a selection of rare Datsun and Nissan emblems from both the US and other markets.
One thing I’ve really noticed over the past two or three years is the popularity of the Datsun 610 as a platform for customization. It’s strange actually, because you almost never see 610s on the street in the US.
I love this “narrow body” Chrysler Conquest wearing a set of what has to be some of the coolest looking factory wheels ever created.
The other half of the Fatlace Skyline pair. No that’s not an airplane toy hanging off the antenna, that’s a Southwest 737 on final approach to Oakland.
Can’t say that I’ve ever seen a Mazda 323 Wagon done up like this before.
I really don’t think there’s a better word to describe this IMSA style wide body 240z than “badass”. Note the vintage HRE mesh wheels.
It’s really 1970s American Z customization at its best.
Three R30 Skylines sitting side by side, just one more of the beautiful scenes from this event.
Who needs a Prius?
Of course there were some cool cars to be found in the parking lot as well, like this very clean AW11 I found on my way in.
From all accounts the the first ever Bayline Gathering was a massive success.
The setting was great, the cars were even better, and the informal relaxed nature of the whole thing was perfect.
Here’s to many more of these gatherings in the future. Perhaps I’ll be traveling to the next one in my own Datsun?
And back to my opening original question on the appeal of vintage Japanese cars. Please feel free to sound off below with your own thoughts on this phenomenon.
Just the other day I had a look at the hand brake cable of my '76 Colt Galant and only then realized how much thicker it was compared to the cables on our newer cars. Things back then were made to last unlike the (disposable?) products we have nowadays. The interior of old cars always tell a story. The interior of newer models...not so much. I guess you can say that it is like comparing a shiny, colorful aluminum soda can to a timeless and classically elegant soda bottle. The linear comparison is almost literal.
The life cycle of every subculture is the same. It starts out as an elite cult of afficionados keeping the flame lit, doing something with the garbage society threw away. From there, bloggers, rockstars, and culture whores put the spotlight on it and it becomes a "scene." Then the newbs and trust fund babies pile on and drive the prices up. You can apply this to everything from action figures to art to motorcycles etc. In the old days, it was city to city. One city would have a scene and become the cultural center of a movement. Now with the internet, bored kids from all 50 states jump on the bandwagon and start acting like seasoned veterans within minutes of joining a forum. You can wait for the storm to pass (as long as it doesn't make it to hollywood) or find a new hobby and pray it stays pure. Protip: Nothing gold can stay.
YEAHFUCKYEAH, this is the first coverage my cars ever got! I drive the 323 wagon. Thanks a lot guys, hands down the most fun meet ever, period
"Think about it for a moment. How many people out there can’t appreciate something like a well done Datsun 510? It may not be one of the world’s most famous or exotic cars, but I can’t recall ever hearing anyone saying something bad about one."
My father would call that junk. He doesn't appreciate cars AT ALL.
That last Skyline with the Works!! Holy cow. The japanese classic car scene in Cali is probably one of the few reasons I would even consider living there. Nice coverage.
Mike, awesome shots! This show/meet; whatever you want to categorize it by was such a blast! Cant wait for next year already :) And thanks for taking a picture of my 510; she's the green 2 door... It's always awesome to see our 510's get some attention!
Mike i take it you havent spent alot of time in New Zealand. The 323 wagon pictured has been a very common sight on kiwi roads since the early 90's done up in very similar fasion or taken much further. not quite as commonplace on the roads these days but still around none the less
Mike, you just made my day! I drive the red boro 86, I cant beleave its on SpeedHunters wow! anyway i thought i saw you taking pictures and i should have said whats up, im a big fan. thank you for showing the dirtyest car at the show some much needed love, what a ego boost. The Cult took over my car life when i got my 86, i was a Turbo Buick guy and a Ford Maveric kid for years and my passion was smoking tires. Thats what it was all about, no matter what it was, if it could spin it was cool to me, and once i found out what this 86 could do.. well i drank the Kool Aid, Join US!!
In my opinion, classic Japanese cars are two things mainly: 1. Awesome to drive. I have more fun in my 1972 Datsun 1600SSS every single time I drive it than in any other modern car I have driven. The old car talks to you through the steering wheel, letting you know what it wants to do, whereas the modern car tells you nothing but "hey look how easy it is to turn my steering wheel!" 2. Beautiful to look at. Their designs are timeless and many look better than most of the new cars on sale today... The stories and the interaction you get with random people because you drive a classic car are sometimes so great that you start looking forward to them... For me personally there is also a great deal of nostalgia when it comes to the Datsun brand thanks to my grandfather rallying various models across the world, especially the Works 240Z in Monte Carlo in 1971. That has instilled in me a passion so deep for classic Japanese cars that I have now recently bought my 5th Datsun at the age of 21... Call me crazy but that is what classic Japanese cars have done for me. They have become part of who I am, and part of what I live for! Thanks for this post Mike, great to be able to "be at the Bayside Meet" from the other side of the world... You guys in America are lucky to have so many awesomely built up cars...
The things that attracted me to my particular old school jdm car , a 1971 Datsun 240Z, were the timeless styling and straightforward engineering. The Japanese designers really captured the spirit of all the great GT/sports cars when they designed this car. Whether tearing up the track or valeted in front of the fanciest restaurants in Beverly Hills, these cars just look right at home. It also doesn't hurt that these cars lend themselves to modifications to easily. Straightforward engineering designs and a huge engine bays allows any average joe to work on these cars. These cars (and many other old school jdm cars) are the blank canvases on which we are able to bring our visions to life.
I loved that meet! So much variety of how cars could be built up! The rough rat styles, super clean builds, vintage period correct restos/racecars, all of the crazy swaps! Can't wait til the next one!
In my opinion, it's all about period-correct love. I was born in 92. So basically the new car that I'm exposed to (as I grow up) at that period are those Skyline, Silvia, Supra etc. Of course it's just love at first sight. And as I grow older, I still remember my first love. And dream of having it one day. So for guys that were exposed to Kenmeri and Hakosouka etc., they will simply stick to it for (maybe) forever. It's all about love. One question though, what's the difference between S30 and 240z?
What draws me to classic cars in particular is their "simple 'oldness'" as you put it. In older cars, there's no fancy comforts like heated seats or a finicky ECU running a gazillion sensors tied into every nook and cranny of a car. The computers in modern cars are so temperamental, it's ridiculous. They go as far as to prevent the car from starting over something as simple as a slightly pinched wire we moved a little too far while installing the intakes in our brand new GT-R. (It took us almost a full day to figure out why the car would run with the hood up, but shut off when the hood was closed). With the old cars, everything was simple and you had total control. The cars of the day promoted the experience of driving, now it just seems like they're just there to offer the convenience factor. While all cars, European, American, and Japanese, were simple with respect to the technology of the time, the Japanese cars in particular stood out to me because they represented a kind of "best of both worlds" approach in their design and function. The Japanese had a knack of using elements and inspiration taken from other cars of the era and combining or improving upon them with their own ideas. I could go on, but I think you get my gist...
I want an R30 so bad. There's something about the Skyline name on a car that isn't so known, at least here in US.